Three men from Sundsvall in northern Sweden are suspected of running the operation, which utilized trucks to transport thousands of litres of beer, wine, and spirits bought at large liquor stores in northern Germany back to Sweden to be sold online.
In addition to a 26-year-old man believed to be the brains behind the operation, prosecutors on Tuesday charged more than 80 other people in Sundsvall for participating in the operation as drivers, warehouse operators, and distributors.
According to the local Sundsvalls Tidning newspaper, a total of 86 people were charged for involvement in the operation.
“What has occurred are planned transports of alcohol from the continent to Sweden where sales were organized via the internet,” prosecutor Karin Everitt told the TT news agency.
“This is a well-organized smuggling operation that engaged a large number of drivers and accomplices – all to get as much illegal alcohol into the country as possible,” customs inspector Sven Eriksson said in a statement.
The 8-month-long probe has produced more than 10,000 pages in preliminary investigation findings.
Altogether, the smuggling ring is suspected of bringing 195,000 litres of beer, 7,000 litres of wine, and 1,700 litres of spirits into Sweden illegally.
In parallel with the Sundsvall case, charges were also filed in Stockholm against eight people suspected of having smuggled around 200,000 litres of hard liquor into Sweden for sale to customers in the Stockholm area.
The charges in Stockholm relate to a total of 13 trips from Germany.
According to the indictment, the smuggling operations resulted in the Swedish state missing out on 38 million kronor ($5.5 million) in alcohol taxes.
Swedish Customs (Tullverket) confiscates substantial quantities of contraband booze every year. In 2010, the agency seized 79,000 litres of liquor, 58,000 litres of wine, and 348,000 litres of beer.
Nevertheless, agency head Therese Mattsson said the case in Sundsvall was unique.
“It involved huge quantities and it was very commercialized,” she told TT.
Mattsson believes that the buyers of illegal alcohol, which is often sold online, purchase the goods in good faith.
“I’d like to believe that. One assumes the liquor comes from within the EU and because Sweden is a member of the EU, it must be okay. But in Sweden we have our own rules when it comes to excise tax, which is explained on serious websites.”